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TV review: Channel 5’s Hatfields & McCoys is 'tiresome'
Kevin Costner in Hatfields and McCoys. Image: Channel 5
Hatfields & McCoys, the mini-series from America's The History Channel, makes its UK debut on Channel 5. It stars Kevin Costner as William Anderson 'Devil Anse' Hatfield and Bill Paxton as Randolph 'Randall' McCoy, patriarchs of quarrelling 19th century families.
As the actor best known for Elliot Ness, Robin Hood and bodyguard to Whitney Houston during his heyday, viewers will naturally expect Kevin Costner to play the goodie, so the scene where Hatfield heartlessly shot a fleeing boy he'd set free was an astute warning his character's going to be more ambiguous.
Superfluous and boring scenes abound, but my least favourite was the courtroom drama over a pilfered pig.
As a viewer, I'm admittedly at two disadvantages with Hatfields & McCoys: I've never particularly enjoyed Westerns and, as an Englishman, I was ignorant of the real life story it's based on, which has since entered American folklore.
Consequently, I knew this two-hour premiere would struggle to win me over.
I'm sorry to say it failed, although the blame can be pinned on dull characters, a feeble basis for such a famous rivalry, and a storyline that simply doesn't justify its lengthy running time. Six hours total? Three feels indulgent.
"A storyline that simply doesn't justify its lengthy running time."
For the uninitiated, Hatfields & McCoys tells the story of William Anderson 'Devil Anse' Hatfield, Randolph 'Randall' McCoy and their respective families on the West Virginia/Kentucky border.
During the American Civil War, circa 1863, the two patriarchs were friends and comrades until Hatfield deserted his platoon and rode home to his wife.
Events then jumped forward in time to 1878, slightly confusingly, where Hatfield and McCoy's friendship is dead and a situation with a stolen pig becomes the unlikely catalyst for a full-blown interfamilial feud.
The Walford Western
While Westerns aren't close to my heart, I'm not averse to enjoying good ones: 3:10 to Yuma, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, AMC's Hell on Wheels - they've all managed to entertain and appeal to me.
However, Hatfields & McCoys deploys everything I dislike about this genre at its worst: it's sluggish, many of the characters feel interchangeable, the headlining actors are going through the motions, there's scant action to lessen monotony and it looks drab (filmed on location in Romania).
What's more, not enough performances grab your interest, although Powers Boothe was appealing as a judge trying to keep his family's clash with the McCoys from getting out of control.
It's not that Costner and Paxton are bad here, just that they do exactly what you expect and nothing more.
It's never a good sign when a hackneyed subplot - involving beautiful Roseanna McCory (Linday Pulsipher) falling in love with dashing Johnse Hatfield (Matt Barr) - becomes the most entertaining thing about an episode.
That story may be Romeo & Juliet with added dust, but at least you can understand the character's situation and feel the emotions on show.
In comparison, the Hatfield-McCoy grudge came across as ridiculous and petty. You can't change historical facts, obviously, but I didn't get the impression it was supposed to feel so trifling and stupid.
Although full of decent actors, Hatfields & McCoys is hobbled by an uninvolving script (written by Deadwood's Ted Mann) that fails to make you care about the situation, the story, or the people.
For Brits, this lavish epic does have one diversion Americans won't fully appreciate, and that's spotting the ex-EastEnders actors. Incredibly, there are three: Michael Greco (best known as Albert Square's Beppe di Marco), Joe Absolom (who played Matthew Rose) and Ben Cartwright (who was Tony Jamison in the soap).
It says it all when a production featuring the likes of Kevin Costner, Bill Paxton and Tom Berenger is enlivened somewhat because of three geezers from Albert Square.
- Verdict: A tiresome portrayal of an iconic event in US history.
What other reviewers said
The Independent - "Hatfields & McCoys has enough quid-spitting grit in it to keep you watching."
The Guardian - "My initial fear - that I wouldn't be able to tell the Hatfields from the McCoys - was realised almost immediately."
What people on Twitter said
@SGreenwood420 - "Hatfields & McCoys! Because I bought it on DVD! #imcoollikethat #bejealous"
@realmartinkemp (Martin Kemp) - "Good luck to my pals @MichaelGreco2 and Joe Absolom in tonight's Hatfields and mccoys with Kevin Costner at 9.00. C5"
The views in this article are those of the author alone and not of MSN or Microsoft
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